If you haven’t been following the saga, Social Warfare blew up some websites a couple of weeks ago with a buggy update. After 7 updates to fix it, I found the plugin was still slowing my sites down. So I decided to replace Social Warfare, and I got a nice little traffic bump for speeding up my site.
My Decision to Replace Social Warfare
Over a year ago, I decided I needed a paid social media buttons plugin. I did a lot of research. One of the most important features to me was that it wouldn’t slow down my page loads. I was assured by unaffiliated experts that Social Warfare wouldn’t do this, and for a while at least, it didn’t.
The trouble all started when I discovered one of my sites had been down for 4 hours. At first I had no idea why, but then I found the culprit. Social Warfare was causing a 500 error. I had to go in through FTP and remove it to get my site running again.
I started researching, and learned the developers already had a fix out. Great! I followed the instructions to install it… nothing. They issued another update in a few hours. This one got things up and running again, but there was a latency of several seconds on every page load. By “latency”, I mean this: when you clicked a link, your browser did absolutely nothing for 3-4 seconds except show a “waiting for [website]…” message at the bottom. None of the fixes they released fixed this problem for me, and it was unacceptable.
How many visitors were going to sit patiently for that when they could just hit the back button and find another site? And Google keeps putting more and more weight on page load speed. This matters. I was paying $135 a year to run Social Warfare on 5 sites, and it was slowing down my sites. And the developers hadn’t fixed the latency in over two weeks.
Replacing the features of Social Warfare
Social Warfare has a crazy amount of features (note to self: maybe avoid “all in one” plugins in the future), and we don’t all use the same ones. Here’s what I was using it for:
- Social share buttons.
- The “total” counters, where you just see one number of total shares rather than each network’s number of shares. I loved the ability of SW to grab the full number of shares from old versions of my website, including the http version.
- The Pinterest image “hover” button that lets people click on the image to share it directly.
- The sidebar widget which showed your most shared posts and the number of shares.
- I had recently started moving my Pin descriptions from the alt tag field into Social Warfare’s special field.
- While I did not use the hidden image feature, I know many of you did, and I’ve got a fix for you.
I knew I couldn’t replace all of these features, so I did some thinking.
Replacing the social share buttons
This was the easy part, but you can’t just use any ol’ plugin. Share buttons can slow your site down more than any other plugin. That’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way – long before Social Warfare. (In fact, when I was considering Social Warfare, I did a lot of research and learned that, back then, it did load quickly. Sadly, this just isn’t true anymore.)
On most of my sites, I used to recommend Simple Share Buttons Adder, but am now informed it installs tracking scripts and potential malware. That’s too bad, because it had always been an awesome plugin. I am currently testing Scriptless Social Sharing, which is designed to be super simple and fast loading. But it also looks terrific, in my opinion. I recommend changing the button padding setting from the default of “12” to something like “5” if you want it to look sleeker. I also use AddtoAny share buttons on one of my sites, and it’s also very fast and never buggy. As far as I know, no tracking or malware on either of those.
What about counters?
I had originally wanted Social Warfare mainly for its terrific ability to add that total counter that pulled from previous domain names and only showed on the posts you wanted it to show on. But you know what I’ve noticed? Big sites don’t use counters anymore. For example, even Buzzfeed doesn’t use them, and they built their site around social proof. If Buzzfeed doesn’t need them, why do I?
This may be because even the fastest-loading counter adds to your page load speed. I haven’t noticed any big increase in shares since I added Social Warfare, so why waste page load time on counters?
Now, you do have several options for counters with both of the plugins I recommend, but I left them off.
The hover button
I replaced the Social Warfare image hover button with the Jquery Pin It Button for Images plugin. This one has some nice options, such as letting you pull the Pinterest description from a variety of fields if you don’t want to use the alt tag field.
The sidebar widget
There are so many sidebar widgets for showing recent, popular, or featured posts.I decided to replace SW with one that shows featured posts with thumbnails. This is actually better for me than showing “most shared” posts, because it rotates among my featured posts randomly, giving visitors a new selection of featured posts with every page load.
If you use Genesis themes, there’s one built in, but it looked really funky in several browsers and I couldn’t figure out the styling issues as quickly as I could just find another widget.
Now, I’m a little hesitant to tell you that I chose a plugin that is no longer being maintained, called Featured Posts with Thumbnail. It’s normally a bad move to use a plugin that isn’t being maintained. But many of these aren’t being maintained, and their function is so simple that they’re unlikely to break. Whatever one you choose, I’d avoid any plugin that maintains stats – those tend to slow page loads, and I’m all about keeping my sites fast.
The Pin description
This is going to be controversial. For Pin descriptions, you have a few options:
Put the description in the Alt Field for the image.
The good thing about this is that it always works. Pinterest always picks it up, and you don’t need a plugin. The bad thing is that the alt image field is supposed to be a brief description of the image for visually impaired visitors, so this isn’t really the right way to use it. And I blame Pinterest for that. They’re a Silicon Valley company and they don’t seem to know basic HTML protocols. Some people will tell you there’s another bad thing about this: the alt tag is important to Google, and your Pin description probably isn’t right for Google SEO. I think this view is mainly coming from people who want to sell you plugins for your Pin descriptions, and it’s nonsense. Google doesn’t put nearly as much weight on alt tags as tons of other things. And there’s no reason a good Pin description can’t also be good for Google SEO. It’s all about including, but not stuffing, keywords.
Manually code the pin description.
Kristie Hill shows you a way to manually code your pin description in its own field. Unfortunately, when I tried this, Pinterest didn’t pick it up. This is a known bug they’ve been working on since 2017, so screw that. No, you’re not imagining things: Pinterest has a shocking lack of tech expertise for a tech company.
The WP-Tasty plugin.
Kristie also recommends a paid plugin that will do the same as the manual coding, but without you having to go into your code yourself. I haven’t tested it myself because my experience with SW has taught me that just because someone is charging you money to use their plugin doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing, won’t crash/slow your site, and will fix bugs quickly and competently.
I’m not thrilled about putting the description in the alt field because it sucks for people using screen readers. But after the manual coding solution didn’t work, I felt that was my only real option. I assume Tasty works even though it’s designed to do the same as the manual code? But I’m just not willing to trust paid plugin developers anymore.
The Hidden Pinterest Image
I don’t use this feature, but I know many of you do. Without Social Warfare, there are a few ways to do this. Once again Kristie Hill has the best answer.
You’ll find a lot of websites recommending you add the images in with a “display:none” CSS code, and I don’t recommend that. Neither does Kristie. The images will still slow your site as if they’re loading normally. Also, people have over the years used display:none to hide nefarious stuff on web sites, so I believe it could potentially hurt your site with Google.
There’s a manual way to make your square or rectangular image load a nice pin when people click it to share. Kristie covers it here. I’m also told WP-Tasty has this functionality, so if the manual method is inconvenient, that’s another option.
If you’re considering how much easier it would be to just include the darn Pinterest image the way I do, here’s why I do it. First, I stick to 600×900 images, which I don’t think are too hard for mobile users to scroll past. And Pinterest is now pushing us to stick to this size. Second, it’s easy for me and it always works. I never worry about Pinterest not picking it up or some special code not working. While I have in the past made longer images for pins, I just pin those manually or through BoardBooster or TailWind.
The Traffic Boost
After making these replacements, my sites started loading lightning fast. And my traffic increased by around 20% on my busiest websites. This appears to be a combination of better Google rankings and lower bounce rates. Fewer people are hitting the back button while they wait for the sites to load, and that’s something Google tracks to determine your rankings. I’ll give up almost any feature to get a speed boost like this because it sends me more traffic, which sends me more money.
I’m perfectly happy with these solutions, but I’m always on the lookout for something better. If I find it, I’ll add it to this article. If you’ve found something awesome, please feel free to add it in the comments.